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Dr. Cecilio Arrastia
By Kenneth R. LaBrant, II, Ph.D.
Número 20

Cecilio Arrastía was born in Cuba on June 19, 1922. He was born in the little town of Guanajay in what he calls "a small humble house situated by the Capellanias River." He was the seventh of ten children. His parents came from a very modest background and did not have much formal education. His father was a farmer and also worked his entire life with public transportation. His mother, at the age of ten, lost her own mother. She had to leave school so she could cook and care for her father and other siblings. Of his parents Arrastia says; "Ambos fueron personas que no pasaron de un quinto grado en la escuela primaria. Lo que no les dio la escuela se los dio la iglesia." In spite of their humbe life he says that his parents received much more from the church than a formal education could have ever given them.

Arrastía's family moved when he was two years old to the capital of Cuba, Havana. They were looking for a better way of life, especially since they had ten children. It was there in Cuba that his family was introduced to the Gospel. The family was, in his words, "traditionally and nominally" Catholic. The family was introduced to the Gospel after his mother's cousin went to Puerto Rico. He attended the Puerto Rican Seminary in Mayagüez and studied for the full time ministry. Arrastía says that Eduardo brought the Gospel with him and shared it with his family and Arrastía's parents gave their lives over to Christ: "en su expresión protestante, presbiteriana."

Arrastía says his family always looked for a Presbyterian church to join, and they did join one, la Primera Iglesia de la Capital, when they arrived in Havanna. They later joined a closer one called la Iglesia de Luyano in a barrio of Havanna. He says that it was in this church that he made his profession of faith and where years later he made the decision to give his life to Christian ministry as his vocation.

This decision to enter the ministry is highlighted by an important individual whose name is Reverend Primitivo Mario Acosta. Arrastía mentions his influence in his book A pesar de todo…Dios sigue siendo amor. He says that this pastor used to visit his house and that he told Arrastía that he would be a great minister. Arrastía says that at the time his plans were to be an accountant and work in an office as a bookkeeper. He decided against this profession and started his studies for the baccalaureate in the seminary.

Arrastía did two years of study at the Instituto de Segunda Ensenanza de la Vibora in La Habana and graduated in 1942. He says that he left this college with the firm conviction that a preacher should preach eloquently and that he should be a master of language, of metaphors, have knowledge of secular literature, and use all of these to make the Gospel acceptable and very contemporary. His basic theological training took place at Seminario Evangelico de Puerto Rico. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in Theology in 1945.

Arrastía was hired as pastor of la Iglesia Presbiteriana in Sancti-Spritius, a traditionally Catholic city in south central Cuba. He said that the membership in the church while he was there increased from 125 members to 375 members. He and his wife left this church at this point to go to Chicago to study for his Master's degree in Theology at the McCormick seminary. The transformation of the local church served as another seminary for him. It was during this time that he took his first evangelical trip away from Cuba and went to Columbia to the Iglesia Presbiteriana there. He was there for three months during the religious persecution in that country.

Arrastía finished his studies in Chicago and received his Master's degree in Theology. From Chicago, he and his wife returned to Cuba to preach part-time at the Presbiterio de Cuba. He was at the same time giving classes at the Theological Seminary at Matanzas, Cuba. He recalls that this stage of his life was an intense time of fixing the parameters of his future ministry which would include evangelical preaching, seminary teaching, and working with students. Through this church he was able to go to many countries for conferences. Among the countries that he traveled to are Ghana, Greece, France, Columbia, Mexico and Costa Rica.

After being a part of his church and having his own daily radio show for a national station, he and his wife received an invitation to work for the Evangelical Division of the World Council of Churches. He says that political factors related to his opposition to the Castro regime caused him to give up his position. While in New York, Arrastía received a scholarship from the Rockefeller Foundation for a year of study in the Union Seminary in New York, in a program called Program for Advanced Religious Studies (PARS). After he finished his year of study, the National Council of Churches, under their Committee of Cooperation in Latin America, offered him a job as editor of Hispanic material and to preach for the churches of Hispanic America. This ministry allowed him to travel throughout all of the Latin American countries and to preach in all of them.
After various years Arrastía was offered a job, through the Presbyterian Church of New York City to organize an Hispanic Presbyterian Church. He would use as his flock
the largest complex of multi-family housing in the United States, Claremont Village. This village was home to 42,000 people, many of whom were Spanish speaking. Of this new mission he says: "Esto fue una quijotada: cambiar America como parroquia por cuatro manzanas de edificios de 30 pisos, en una zona tan difícil que en una película de Paul Newman rodada en ese territorio, se le llamó Fuerte Apache." He says that this community contained drugs, gangs, assaults in the streets and the homes, and constant danger. He and his wife were there for 12 years. After three years they had organized a church with 125 members. Today he says that this church, San Andrés, is one of the most active in the Bronx.

It was during this pastorate that Arrastía moderated the Presbyteriate of New York, the first Hispanic elected to this position, and he did his doctoral work at Princeton. He further worked part of the time as Assessor for Hispanic Events with the Association of Theological Schools in the United States. As a result of this minstry, Hispanic programs were established at Fuller Seminary in California and McCormick Seminary of Chicago.

Again, Arrastía changed locations for his ministry. The Seminary of Puerto Rico invited hime to work as the Promotor of Finances and Professor of Homilies and Adminstration of Churches. For three years this was the ministry of Arrastía and his wife. In 1978, the Programs Agency of the Presbyterian Church offered them a job as Advisor on Racial Issues and in the Development of New Churches. They changed jobs within the same agency, for the office of evangelization, as Editor of Resources and working with the program Amanece una Nueva Era.

In 1987, he and his wife retired. In the midst of all of this action he was able to write various books, articles and to participate in evangelical conferences. He gives praise to his father, his mother, his pastor (Rev. Primitivo Acosta), his wife who he considers his partner, since he uses the first person plural we instead of I when speaking of his ministry and work, and, of course, God. Arrastía says: "En todo esto y en muchos casos más he visto la mano de Dios sostiéndome y he oido su voz dando las órdenes de marcha. Como Pablo, podría decir que Su potencia se ha perfeccionado en mi flaqueza. Si algo hay de conquista, toda la gloria pertenece a El."

Some of the many ministires that Arrastia was involved with are the following: Continental Conferencista; Editor of Works in Spanish; Head of the Committee of Cooperation in Latin America; Member of the National Council of Churches in the United States; Pastor of the San Andrés Presbyterian Church in the Bronx, N.Y.; Advisor for Asuntos Hispanos; Member of the Association of Theological Schools in the U.S.; Professor of Theological Seminaries of Matanzas, Cuba; Professor at Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico; Adjunct Professor at McCormick Seminary in Chicago; Rotating Preacher at the Cadena Oriental of Cuba; President of the Cuban Council of Evangelical Churches; Moderator of the Presbyterians of Cuba and New York (first Hispanic moderator of the Presbyterian Church of New York); Founder and Editor of the Magazine Diálogo in New York; Associate for the events of racial justice and development of new churches; Member of the Program Agency of the United Presbyterian Church; Associate for Resources and Services; Associate for the Program of Evangelization; Professor of the Seminario Católico Diocesano in Boynton Beach, Florida.
Among his books published are the following: Jesucristo, señor del pánico; Diálogo desde una cruz; Itinerario de la pasión; La predicación, el predicador y la iglesia; Teoría y práctica de la predicación; Tentación y misión; Tres problemas y una solunción (en prensa); Pero Dios sigue siendo amor.
Some of the articles that Arrastia has published are the following: "La iglesia: communidad hermeneútica; predicación y misión: una tensión esencial"; "El sermón: un rompecabezas"; Dinámicas de la cultura hispana"; "Predicación y consejería"; "¿Autoridad para qué?"; "Texto y contexto"; "Liberación y compromiso: la experiencia del exodo."

Arrastía has taught many courses in the seminary including: Systematic Theology; Theology and Methods of Evangelization; Basic Homily; Advance Homily; Worship; Worship and Preaching in the Hispanic Context; The Hispanic American Novel and the Hispanic Preacher; Ecclesiastical Administration; and Planning in the Local Church.

Finally, Arrastía has been a part of many preaching engagements, conferences, and special events, for example: Speaker of the Presbyterian Mission in Guatemala, Texas, and California; Speaker for the National Convention of Evangelical Directors in San Diego, California; Preacher at the General Assembly for the Untied Presbyterian Church in 1981; Preacher of the Seven Words on the National Television of Cuba; Guest Speaker at the schools of Universidades de San Marcos, Lima, secondary schools in Lima, Bogotá, Barranquilla, San José, Costa Rica; Inter Americana, San Germán, Puerto Rico; Workshops about evangelization in Anchorage and Juneau, Alaska; Special Preaching Engagements in Akropongo, Ghana, Africa, and Japan; Preaching in all of the countries in Latin America and Spain; Trips to Europe, Africa, Greece, the Holy Land, Egypt, Japan, and others.

Kenneth R. LaBrant, II, Ph.D.
Department of Classical Modern Languages
Troy State University.
AL. United States.